In spite of its immense resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo witnesses a situation of profound crisis and instability. It has been plagued by an internal conflict which, although ended with a peace accord in 2003, still continues, especially in the Eastern regions. An estimated 4.5 million people died - either as direct victims of the conflict or of disease and malnutrition -between 1998 and 2004. The country has known an enormous amount of violence and rape by armed groups that has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Congo's wealth is the source of all the woe of its population, victims of atrocious acts of violence and violation of human rights, living in situations of unbearable poverty, disease, hunger and lack of prospects for the future. Less than 45% of the Congolese population has access to clean drinking water. According to UN and international NGOs estimates, at least 45,000 Congolese die monthly from conflict-related causes: starvation and preventable diseases. Women and children have been the main victims of the war that has ravaged the country. Today, sexual violence is still used as a strategy of war, above all in the eastern regions, where fighting and massacres continue. In 2007 the country witnessed a resurgence of ebola, a devastating disease, and the entire south was cordoned off for practically the entire year.
The indigenous peoples of DRC (or Pygmies), deserve special attention since they are victims of discrimination. Traditionally they lived in symbiosis with nature (thick forests), practicing hunting and gathering. Their knowledge of their environment allowed them their survival in a difficult environment which they managed sustainably for centuries. Now the majority of them have been driven out of their forests because of the creation of national parks and protected areas. Most of them have found themselves landless and live as squatters on other peoples’ land. The dominant groups in DRC consider the Bambuti and other indigenous groups dirty, deceitful and uncivilised. They are often described as creatures, not human beings. Their basic human rights are persistently and frequently violated. Some of them have been victims of rape, sexual abuse and even cannibalism during the recent war.
SONIA has been supporting four initiatives in DRC, three of them in the territory of Lwiza, a very remote area of DRC, in close proximity to the Angola border and one in South Kivu, in favour of the Bambuti.
The majority of the population living in the territory of Lwiza comprises refugees and internally displaced people from the adjoining regions, victim of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Katanga (Shaba) in 1991 and of other internal conflicts that have plagued the country. Amongst the refugees there is a sizeable proportion of unwed mothers, victims of the rapes having taken place during the various conflicts. The rate of HIV/AIDS there is quite high and the locality harbours a disproportionate amount of orphans, both war and HIV/AIDS related.